This week, Sean, Kate, MJ, and Michelle look at recent releases from Yen Press, VIZ Media, Digital Manga Publishing, and Kodansha Comics.
Ai Ore!, Vol. 5 | By Mayu Shinjo | VIZ Media – I have completely given up on these characters – especially Mizuki – growing or learning from any of their experiences. And honestly, doing that makes it much easier to get into the groove of this melodramatic, silly manga. From Akira’s desperately trying to be taken seriously as a guy while wearing a kitty hoodie, to Mizuki’s over-the-top “MY WORLD IS ENDING!” reaction to her first fight with Akira, the situations here are made for amusement. Sure, there’s some soap opera dramatics – the fight I mentioned earlier – but even the serious backstory for Akira, where he reveals that his tutor once brought in an older woman to “make a man of him” – is played with its tongue in cheek. The ending seems to hint we may be seeing the return of “Dark Akira”, though – let’s hope he’s merely firm and seductive, and not the callous ass he was at the start. Fun stuff. –Sean Gaffney
Arata: The Legend, Vol. 10 | By Yuu Watase | VIZ Media – The latest installment of Arata: The Legend features body-swapping hijinks. Usually these kind of comic interludes are a sign that the artist is marking time between big fight scenes, but Yuu Watase uses this time-honored trick to advance the plot in a meaningful fashion, allowing Hinohara to infiltrate Yataka’s stronghold. The body-swapping gimmick also provides the characters an opportunity to reflect on their feelings for one another, giving us greater insight into Hinohara and Mikusa’s personalities. The only drawback to the out-of-character behavior is that it grants Watase license for fan service — something that the series doesn’t need to be funny or sexy. That minor gripe aside, Arata remains engrossing, finding the perfect middle ground between shojo angst and shonen action. Recommended. -Katherine Dacey
Hana-Kimi, Vols. 4-6 Omnibus | By Hisaya Nakajo | VIZ Media – A lot of this second omnibus deals with the class culture festival, where most of Mizuki’s class is dressing up in drag. This gives her an excuse to wear a dress most of the time, even if it’s as Alice in Wonderland. After a strong start, the author seems to have realized that the series will be a long one, so the actual romance between Mizuki and Sano isn’t moved forward as much. Instead, Nakatsu gets the focus, as he struggles with his repressed feelings for a “guy”. He’s mostly comedic, but I liked how he handled telling the girl who likes him that he was breaking it off – he’s a sweetie pie that sadly is doomed in a series like this. The addition of a female friend – as well as a new rival – for Mizuki is also welcome, and I look forward to the third and presumably last teaser omnibus. –Sean Gaffney
Itazura Na Kiss, Vol. 8 | By Kaoru Tada | Published by Digital Manga Publishing – There are times when Itazura Na Kiss is so frustrating, one wants to hurl it against the wall. Usually this is because the protagonist, Kotoko, is almost aggressively incompetent. In this latest volume, she has decided that what she wants to do is become a nurse and help Naoki with his medical practice, so she enrolls in nursing school with practically no idea what this will entail. Naoki is cutting in his criticism, as usual, but what’s interesting is that one of Kotoko’s classmates objects to how Naoki treats his wife and eventually presents himself as an alternative. Naoki, faced with jealous feelings for the first time, is thrown for a loop and it’s what he does to win Kotoko back that makes up for every bit of irritation caused by other elements of the series. Still recommended, despite its flaws! – Michelle Smith
Pandora Hearts, Vol. 10 | By Jun Mochizuki | Yen Press – While the series’ last few volumes have posed many more questions than they have answered, things finally come to a head here in volume ten. This volume is chock full of revelations, particularly regarding Gil and Vincent Nightray, and the atmosphere is tense in exactly the way that shows off Jun Mochizuki’s fast-paced storytelling style to its best advantage. Though crystal-clear plotting has never been Mochizuki’s strong point, clarity in the moment is, which is what makes a volume like this work so well. Panel-to-panel, she maps out these characters’ emotional truths so clearly that the text becomes nearly irrelevant to our understanding of their plights. That said, some of Mochizuki’s dialogue is so delightful (Xerxes Break owns my soul), it would be a tragedy to do without it. Still recommended. – MJ
Psyren, Vol. 4 | By Toshiaki Iwashiro | VIZ Media – I’m starting to enjoy this the more I get into it. The lead is likeable and talented while retaining that ‘everyman’ spirit, the cast isn’t too overpowered yet, and of course hard work is emphasized, as in the best Jump works. The introduction of the Elmore Wood kids is well-handled – they act like typical kids, ranging from bratty to shy to stoic. They help Ageha to figure out how to control his powers (well, we presume – we haven’t seen it in action just yet) by virtue of a simpler mindset and learning at a younger age. And, as a cliffhanger shows, they may be mankind’s last, best hope. Of course, they may all be killed at the start of the next volume, too. The only downside here is Kabuto, who lacks enough likeable traits to make a good comic relief character – you want him to fail. Otherwise, very good stuff. –Sean Gaffney
Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, Vol. 12 | By Koji Kumeta | Kodansha Comics – “We’ll have to start a new campaign with easier content so that even first-timers can understand Zetsubou-Sensei,” declares suicidal teacher Itoshiki Nozumu in the first pages of volume 12. What follows is a sharp, funny deconstruction of a common manga practice: the catch-up chapter. I wish the rest of the jokes in volume 12 were as accessible to a Western reader as “The First-Timer Condition,” but the intricate wordplay and cultural allusions often sailed over my head. (Word to the translator: I know what Comiket is! More explanation of the yakuza jokes and economic references, please!) Zetsubou-Sensei ought to be in my wheelhouse — there was a Stendahl joke in chapter 112, for Pete’s sake! — but requires too much explanation to elicit more than an appreciative, “Oh, I get it. Very clever.” -Katherine Dacey